It’s World Oceans Day, which spotlights the health of our waters. As a consumer, I know the best thing I can do is make sustainable seafood choices. That’s not always easy, because few foods are as confusing to buy these days as fish. If it’s wild-caught, is it being overfished? If it’s farmed, is it causing environmental problems? You could spend hours at the fish counter, reading labels and grilling the fishmonger, and still walk away bewildered. Many fish go by several names, which adds to the confusion.
To make those choices easier, Lia introduced Nourish Network’s Super Sustainable Seafood Picks last year. Those choices still are smart, and we’ve updated the list this year with some new entries. Our criteria are simple: A fish must be raised or caught in an environmentally sound manner, safe to eat, widely available, and easy to identify. We cross-checked our selections with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s SeafoodWatch, Blue Ocean Institute’s Seafood Guide, and the Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector.
Tilapia. The ancient Egyptians farmed tilapia and this freshwater fish is still an aquaculture superstar, especially when it’s cultivated in the U.S. in recirculating tanks with minimal risk of pollution or escaped fish. Little fish oil or fishmeal is required for feed, so tilapia is easy on resources, which makes it affordable too.
Farmed Clams, Mussels, Bay Scallops, and Oysters. These bivalve mollusks leave their environment even cleaner than when they arrive because they filter particulates from the water. Even better, farmed versions of these mollusks from anywhere in the world are considered environmentally sound.
Alaskan Pacific Cod. Moist, lean, tender, and mild–if you crave cod these days, make sure it’s from Alaska, which has the most sustainable supply. It’s also marketed as Alaska cod, true cod, gray cod, or simply as “cod” (like its less-sustainable cousin, Atlantic cod).
Sablefish. This omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish is new to home cooks, who relish its velvety, buttery texture. Sablefish is neither cod nor butterfish, though it resembles both and may be labeled black cod, Alaska cod (just like Pacific cod, so be sure to ask the fishmonger if it’s really sablefish) or butterfish. Sablefish from Alaska or British Columbia is the most sustainable choice; wild Alaksan salmon also works well in many recipes calling for sablefish.
Alaskan Wild Salmon. Alaska’s salmon is a model of fishery management, so it’s abundant and widely available (fresh when it’s in season in summer and frozen year-round). We also think wild salmon has superior flavor and texture to its farmed cousins. If you can’t find wild Alaskan salmon, try sablefish.
Herring/Sardines. Sardines are a type of herring, a small, fast-growing fish caught in purse seines with minimal bycatch and habitat damage. You’ll typically find them in cans or jars, often smoked or pickled, although fresh whole sardines are increasingly available, too and are delicious grilled or broiled.
Mahimahi. If you love grouper and red snapper–both turn up on “don’t eat” lists–order domestically caught (including Hawaii) mahi mahi instead. This is a fast-maturing fish that’s lean and firm-textured, yet moist and may be labeled dorado or dolphinfish (although it’s unrelated to dolphins).
The state of the oceans seems daunting right now, but simply making smart seafood choices like those above are a powerful way to help preserve them for years to come. What you eat really does matter.
A longtime editor, writer, and recipe developer, Alison Ashton is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef and the Editorial Director for Nourish Network. She has worked as a features editor for a national wire service and as senior food editor for a top food magazine. Her work has appeared in Cooking Light, Vegetarian Times, and Natural Health as well as on her blog, Eat Cheap, Eat Well, Eat Up.